PREVIEW: Eagles Set for Home Clash Against NJIT – 1/25/20

After what will amount to 9 days away from home, FGCU (6-15, 3-3) will open the nest to host NJIT (6-13, 3-3). The Highlanders played a softer nonconference schedule but have looked competitive in ASUN play. They struggled mightily against Liberty (only 38 total team points) and Jacksonville but have won handily against UNF and Lipscomb. Most recently, NJIT lost by 1 point to Stetson (65-64). FGCU has a 6-3 all–time record versus the Highlanders. Last time these teams played, NJIT knocked the Eagles out of the ASUN tournament. This NJIT squad is fairly balanced but also young. Their roster is comprised of 10 underclassmen (6 freshmen) and 5 upperclassmen (3 seniors). Below, we will take a look at some of the players who could make an impact for the Highlanders, discuss potential matchups, and give our predictions for the game.

The Players

Zach Cooks (#4)

Cooks has been terrorizing the ASUN since he burst onto the scene as a freshman 2 years ago. The 5’9″ / 155 lb junior guard has continued his upward trajectory this season, averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. He has started all 19 games for the Highlanders this season and plays a whopping 37 minutes per game. From a percentage standpoint, Cooks is having a down shooting year, to an extent. Still, he is the unquestioned leader of this team.

San Antonio Brinson (#2)

Brinson has significantly increased his offensive output over the course of his career. The 6’8″ / 200 lb forward has played in 17 games so far, making 15 starts. His points per game have risen from 6 (as a sophomore) to now 11 as a junior, to go along with 5 rebounds. He is shooting 44% from the floor and 36% from beyond the arc. Additionally, Brinson has exploded in ASUN play. He is averaging 17 points and 6 rebounds in 6 conference games, including a monstrous 37 point effort against UNF.

Shyquan Gibbs (#11)

Gibbs is a solid veteran presence in NJIT’s backcourt. He is a 6’1″ / 150 pound guard who has started all 19 games this season for the Highlanders. Currently, he is averaging 9 points, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. Gibbs is known to be a lethal shooter when he gets into a rhythm as he is shooting 41% from the floor and 38% from deep.

Souleymane Diakite (#21)

Diakite is another Highlander that has vastly improved this season. After playing only 8 minutes a game as a freshman, the 6’9″ / 210 lb sophomore has started all 19 games this season, playing about 31 minutes per contest. He is currently averaging 7 points, 2 assists, and 9 rebounds per game. At this point he is not much of a shooter, but can do some things around the basket when called upon.

Matchups

Guards

NJIT has a backcourt that is filled with quality and experience. Their typical starters feature 2 seniors in Gibbs and Walsh as well as junior, Zach Cooks. Most of their offensive production stems from Cooks and Gibbs. These payers lack size but can derail an opposing team when they get into a rhythm. FGCU guards definitely have a size advantage, Caleb Catto has been excellent lately and will be tough for NJIT to contain. Sam Gagliardi is always a threat to go off and Zach Scott is due for a big game. Jalen Warren has also improved his play as the primary point guard as of late. Still, it will be difficult to contain Cooks and FGCU has a tendency to allow the opposing team’s best payer to take over.

Forwards

NJIT is one of the better sized teams in ASUN. Brinson and Diakite are 6’8″ and 6’9″, respectively, and their depth, while young, is just as big. Typically, FGCU has the size advantage in conference play. Justus Rainwater has established himself as a workhorse for FGCU down in the paint. He will likely be tasked with fighting for rebounds against Diakite. Dakota Rivers and Brian Thomas have a chance to make noise off the bench as well.

Projected Starters

FGCUNJIT
Jalen Warren – G (#5)Zach Cooks – G (#4)
Sam Gagliardi – G (#15)Shyquan Gibbs – G (#11)
Caleb Catto – G (#2)Reilly Walsh – F (#14)
Tracy Hector – F (#13)San Antionio Brinson – F (#2)
Justus Rainwater – F (#32)Souleymane Diakite – F (#21)

Outlook

Both of these teams are coming off narrow losses in games they could have won. Only one of them will be getting back into the win column after this game. Almost 1/3 of NJIT’s points come from Zach Cooks. FGCU must either limit his production or squash the production from the rest of the team. NJIT is also a very good rebounding team. It will be important for the Eagles to be physical in establishing their presence down low. Lastly, in a conference filled with 3-point shooting teams, NJIT relies less on the deep ball than most. FGCU has struggled against 3-point shooting teams at times this year but have been solid in clogging the paint. It will be interesting to see if the Highlanders can get hot from 3 or if FGCU will smother them defensively.

The Predictions

Elliott Kresse (16-5)

“FGCU loses a nail biter in a gritty, tough game.” – Elliott

63-61 – NJIT

Russell Kelly (12-9)

“These are 2 teams that make up the competitive group of ASUN squads that wil be fighting for the 3 and 4 seed. I think FGCU get the advantage here, being at home.” – Russell

70-66 – FGCU

Dawson Jordan (12-9)

“FGCU pulls out a close one and comes away with a W.” – Dawson

81-78 – FGCU

Bryan Genter (12-9)

“FGCU bounces back in this one at home.” – Bryan

67-60 – FGCU